The Scheme, which will be for an initial three year period, has been developed by the Church’s Council for Mission in Ireland, which provides operational management and support to PCI’s Home Mission, Irish Mission, deaconesses and centrally managed mission projects of the Church. It also supports the provision of a chaplaincy service in universities and colleges, the healthcare system, the prison service and the armed forces.
Speaking after the close of Monday’s business, Very Rev Dr Frank Sellar, convener of the Council for Mission in Ireland, said, “Our Rural Chaplaincy Pilot Scheme and the appointment of our first Rural Chaplain a very welcome and a very positive development.
“For many years we have provided a wide range of traditional chaplaincy services, in hospitals, prisons and the armed forces, for example. As a denomination whose congregations are part and parcel of rural communities across the countryside, the Scheme will enable the Church to be better able to address the significant challenges facing the farming community at this particular time.”
Dr Sellar continued, “I am, therefore, delighted that we have been able to appoint Kenny to this position.He comes from farming stock, with a warm pastor’s heart and he can often be found in livestock marts in Saintfield, Rathfriland, Hilltown and Markethill. I know his heart for Christ, and for rural and farming families, and I pray God’s richest blessing upon him, and his family, as he prepares to take up his new role.”
The Pilot Scheme will cover four of PCI’s nineteen regional presbyteries, the Presbyteries of Down, Iveagh, Newry and Armagh, which includes most of County Down and all of County Armagh.
The main function of the new chaplain, a post which was advertised during the summer, will be to provide a chaplaincy service to the rural, especially farming communities, in the four presbyteries, which includes prioritising the pastoral and spiritual needs associated with geographical isolation and social isolation of those working in the agri-sector.
In an area that reaches from Comber to the north, along the western shores of Strangford Lough, and down the coast to Ardglass and on to Warrenpoint, it also takes in the towns and villages as far west to Benburb, to the southern shores of Lough Neagh. The chaplain will also be tasked with making connections with Presbyterian congregations in the district, and working in collaboration with other agencies and service providers in the rural community.
Speaking about his appointment and his upcoming new role, Mr Hanna said, “I have been minister in Second Dromara Presbyterian Church for over 10 years. This has been a long and warm relationship which makes leaving difficult, as we will miss our church family, and the wider community, who have made us feel so at home, in this beautiful part of County Down.
“As I embark on a new adventure with Jesus, serving Him as Rural Chaplain, I am very grateful for this opportunity and so thankful to God for His call to me, a farmer’s son and part-time farmer from the Mournes, to serve Him in this way.”
Mr Hanna said that an important part of his new role will be to visit local churches across the four presbyteries, some 70 individual congregations and linkages in the denomination. He also stressed that he would not be working in competition with local churches, but rather in close partnership with them.
“I hope to encourage presbyteries, local congregations, ministers and Christians in the good gospel work they are doing, cast a vision for rural chaplaincy, and encourage prayer for the work across our rural communities. I am both excited about the many possibilities and nervous at the mammoth size of the challenge ahead.
Mr Hanna concluded by saying, “What gives me great hope, however, is that Jesus, my Good Shepherd, promises to go ahead of His sheep, to save us, lead us and guide us (John 10:27). I look forward to pointing others to the blessings of life in Him. As a minister of rural congregations for 20 years, I passionately believe that the local church is God’s way of reaching communities for Christ and so I hope I can support what is already happening and help seed new gospel work that local congregations can take ownership of.”
During this session of business the Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruced, asked all PCI's chaplains who were present to stand in the Assembly Hall, including the new rural chaplain. Dr Bruce then prayed for them and their colleagues who could not be there. The General Assembly also recognised ‘with sincere gratitude…’ ‘…the dedicated work of chaplains serving in hospitals, prisons, the armed forces, and universities and colleges, during the restrictions and challenges of Covid-19’.
Photo: Pictured at the General Assembly today are (left to right) the Convener of the Council for Mission in Ireland Very Rev Dr Frank Sellar, Acting Council Secretary, Rev Jim Stothers and PCI's Chaplaincy Secretary, Rev Robert Bell, with PCI's new rural chaplain Rev Kenny Hanna.
The General Assembly will meet in Assembly Buildings until the afternoon of Wednesday, 6 October. Business will also take place on Monday and Tuesday evenings. For full details visit the General Assembly Overview page here. As in previous years, throughout the General Assembly there will be a live Twitter feed. You can follow preceedings via @pciassembly hashtag #PCIGA21.